Gulf Islands National Seashore (Florida) | PARK AT A GLANCE

Family enjoying the day at Gulf Islands National Seashore

Family enjoying the day at Gulf Islands National Seashore

Gulf Islands National Seashore has units located in both Florida and Mississippi. While it is not the only National Park spanning multiple states, it is one of the rare parks in which the units are not connected together. The two parks are over 100 miles apart by vehicle and 70 miles by boat. The state of Alabama sits between them. Because of this, they are essentially two separate parks and are visited by two different sets of vacationers. This portion of National Park Planner covers the Florida unit. Complete information on the Mississipi unit is also available.


The Florida unit of Gulf Islands National Seashore consists of six different areas. Unlike the Mississippi unit where access to all islands in the park requires a boat, here at the Florida unit the two islands, Perdido Key and Santa Rosa Island, are accessible by vehicle thanks to bridges connecting them to the mainland. Four sections of the park are located on these islands—Johnson Beach on Perdido Key, the forts and beaches of Fort Pickens, and the beaches at the Santa Rosa and Okaloosa areas. The other two sections are located on the mainland. Fort Barrancas lies within the Pensacola Naval Air Station and Naval Live Oaks is near Gulf Breeze, Florida.

Perdido Key is mainly a recreational area with a lifeguarded beach and opportunities for kayaking and canoeing in Big Lagoon. This is also the only place in the Florida unit where backcountry camping on the beach is allowed (for those arriving by boat only, walk-in camping is no longer allowed). At the far east end of the island is a World War II-era battery.

The Fort Pickens Area offers opportunities for those interested in both recreation and history. Fort Pickens has the largest collection of 1800s forts and batteries open to the public of any of the National Parks on the east coast. The area also hosts the only developed campground, plus there are plenty of places to picnic and approximately fifteen miles of Gulf and Pensacola Bay beaches to enjoy.

The Santa Rosa Area is an undeveloped stretch of beach situated between Pensacola and Navarre Beaches. Opal Beach has covered picnic pavilions, restrooms, and outdoor showers on both the Gulf and the Santa Rosa Sound-side of the island. Lifeguards are on duty during the summer on the Gulf-side beaches.

The Okaloosa Area is a small beach located near Fort Walton. It is the least developed area of the park, offering only bay-side swimming, a restroom, and a few picnic tables.

Naval Live Oaks is located on the mainland (the Fairpoint Peninsula). Here you will find the park’s only extensive network of hiking trails. There is a picnic area with a covered pavilion. Swimming in both Santa Rosa Sound and Pensacola Bay is also possible.

The Fort Barrancas Area is located within Pensacola Naval Air Station and features historical attractions only. Fort Barrancas, Advanced Redoubt, and the Spanish Water Battery are open on select days of the week. There are also two short nature trails and a few picnic tables.


The Florida unit of the Gulf Islands National Seashore is comprised of six different sections.


From March 1st through October 31st, the grounds of the Fort Pickens Area are open from 5 AM to 8 PM. For the rest of the year, the grounds are open from 5 AM to 6 PM. The entrance is gated and locked when the park is closed. Only campers with a lock code can enter after hours.

The Fort Pickens Visitor Center and the Fort Pickens Discovery Center are open from 9 AM to 4:30 PM daily, except when closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

Fort Pickens (the actual fort) is open for self-guided tours from 8 AM to sunset.


The grounds of Naval Live Oaks are open from 8 AM to sunset.


NOTE:  Pensacola Naval Air Station is now closed to the general public due to a shooting that took place on December 6, 2019. Only those with Department of Defense issued IDs can enter the base. The National Park Service does not know when, or even if, the Fort Barrancas area will open again. For the latest update, see the National Park Service’s Temporary Road and Facility Closures web page, or call the Fort Barrancas Visitor Center at (850) 455-5167.

The Fort Barrancas Visitor Center and forts are typically open Saturdays through Wednesdays from 9 AM to 4:30 PM, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.


This small beach area is open from 8 AM to sunset daily.


Opal Beach is open from 8 AM to sunset daily. The other beaches are open from sunrise to sunset.


From March through October, the beaches of Perdido Key are open from 5 AM to 9 PM. The rest of the year they are open from 5 AM to 6 PM. The entrance is gated and locked when the park is closed.

The above listed times can always change, so before making travel plans be sure to get the latest schedule on the National Park Service’s official Operating Hours and Seasons web page for Gulf Islands National Seashore.


There is a per vehicle charge to enter the Fort Pickens, Perdido Key, Okaloosa, and Opal Beach sections of Gulf Islands National Seashore. The pass is valid for seven consecutive days and can be used to enter into all sections of the park. There is also a charge for those walking and biking into these units, though the price is reduced. There is no charge to enter the other areas of the park.

From March 1 through October 31st, the gates at Fort Pickens and Perdido Key Areas are locked at 9 PM. However, the fee stations at the entrances are only manned until around 8 PM. If the gate is still open, yet the fee station closed, there is no fee to enter the park. Just be sure to exit by closing time.

There is a separate charge for camping and renting picnic pavilions.

For the latest prices, visit the National Park Service’s official Entrance Fees web page for Gulf Island National Seashore.

The following is a one-hour documentary on Gulf Islands National Seashore. It covers both the Mississippi and Florida units of the park.

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Last updated on April 28, 2022
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